Working Wounded: Does Diversity Help?

DEAR WOUNDED: My company goes through the motions when it comes to diversity. Is there a way to make diversity a more strategic part of what we do?

ANSWER: If you want to win a bet with a nonsports fan, bet that this year's Super Bowl will be won for the first time by an African-American coach. You're a sure winner because, not only is this the first Super Bowl with an African-American coach in the big game, but both coaches are black. Combine that with a prominent woman, an African-American and a Latino running for president and it would appear that the country is finally approaching the melting pot that it was described as being many years ago.

What can your company do to gain from this diversity bandwagon? IBM has put a lot of effort into making diversity a strategic part of how it does business. I've listed a series of steps below that it has taken. For more, check out the article "Queer, Inc." from the Dec. 11, 2006, issue of Fortune.

Do you have task forces representing each group of employees working for your organization? IBM set up eight task forces -- women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, people with disabilities, employees with work-life issues, gays and men. That last one wasn't a typo -- IBM didn't want to leave anyone out, even men. IBM's goal was twofold: to work with each group to find the best possible employees and to gain insight about how to sell more products and services to each group. Each task force was asked to answer the following questions:

How can the company attract the most talented people from your group? Look around your company cafeteria and you'll see diversity, but you'll also see how many groups stick to themselves. By using members of each group to identify gathering points and organizations, IBM has increased both the diversity and the quality of its work force.

How can the company keep them engaged and productive? For many years I wore glasses to work. With this simple modification I was able to make a stronger contribution. It's worth doing some homework to find out if there are things the organization can do to increase the contributions of all its employees.

How can the company better market its products and services to your group? In the old days when you wanted to get a message out, it was all about broadcasting your message to everyone. Today, with many different Web sites, radio and cable stations, it's about narrowly casting a specific message to a specific audience. Rather than guessing, use each group as tour guides to show the best way to reach its members.

Which outside groups should become partners with the company? A while ago I spoke to the Native American Human Resource association. There are many such groups out there. But don't wait for these groups to find you, use your "insiders" to reach out to them.

Ask these questions and your company will not only become more diverse, it will also generate more revenue from more diverse sources.

Online Ballot and Contest

Here are the results from a recent online ballot:

Working Wounded/ online ballot question: Do you have trouble getting through to the people you need to talk to to do your job?

  • It's easier than it's ever been to get through to people, 14.7 percent
  • It's about the same, 39.3 percent
  • It's tough to get through to people today, 45.9 percent

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